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Communicating the Peoples’ University in the 21st Century

Welcome to csuglobal

California excites interest, envy, and longing throughout the world. It is a beacon for innumerable refugees, immigrants, and tourists from all quarters of the globe, seeking freedom, excitement, or improved economic opportunities. California is often compared to a loadstone, or a magnet, or the moon drawing tides. On occasion California is fancifully described as an enchantress – Circe, or one of the Sirens or the Lorelei. Every utopian name imaginable has been applied at some time – Atlantis, Arcadia, Avalon, the Garden of Eden, El Dorado, the Elysian Fields, the Garden of Golden Apples…the Isle of the Blest…the Promised Land, the Terrestrial Paradise and Treasure Island…In the minds of some explorers, those island myths became fixed ideas. Out of them grew the obsession that California was an island. This notion persisted on and off for two centuries following California’s discovery…Anybody who has felt the irresistible pull of California will feel some affinity with this fascinating tradition. Though the dream didn’t – couldn’t – literally come true, California remains symbolically an enchanted isle.

(Polk, 13-14)

In her book, The Island of California: A History of the Myth, Dora Polk tells the story of that myth. The history of a vision. The facts of a fantasy. Her work examines the earliest presentations of California from coastline voyages in 1533 through multiple overland attempts to chart its shape together with the intrigue and controversy that continued to surround this issue through the seventeenth century. For two centuries the world knew very little about the vast size of the place that would eventually become the United States, during which time the interest in this new land waxed and waned with the fates and fortunes of European powers. Through records, diaries, maps and literature Polk traces the outsiders’ hopes for riches and reputation. The sailors’ love of adventure and fear of disaster and above all, the power that an idea can hold in the minds of men when they seek a goal convinced they already knew what they would find. Thus, both the idea and the ideal of California were born.

California may have disappointed those early sailors, but as Polk suggests, the magic of a place apart, an island that is a “controllable, perfectible world in miniature” (and California in its turn) has been a feature of the collective cultural imagination across millennia and used to “represent the ideal in every form, natural, emotional and spiritual” (Polk, 27).  However, in the case of California this quest became even more tantalizing as the answers seemed to be within sight, but always just out of reach with the jagged coastline, deserts and mountains keeping outsiders away. This remoteness only served to intensify the mission to connect the ‘east’ and the ‘west’ as found on the maps of the day while suggesting that California was figuratively and almost literally the place where these understandings could be joined. In many ways, to these early explorers, California became the beginning of the world.

We tend to overlook these early tales of contact and exploration in the west and instead begin the story of the United States in the east from the ‘founding fathers’ to the expansion south and west and an ever-shifting ‘frontier’ to conquer. California doesn’t get much of a mention in more traditional US histories except as a vast wilderness until the discovery of gold. However, even when read from the ‘other direction’ and, as Gerald Nash observes, “…various historians of the state have followed certain common themes…some have argued that the state’s past is singular – unlike that of any other state…Others have argued that its experience was typical, representing a microcosm of western and American experiences…The final verdict – if there is one – has not yet been rendered. Nor are these responses necessarily contradictory, for both typical and atypical trends have been reflected in the state’s history”. (Nash, 410)

Why csuglobal?

More to the point, what does any of this have to do with the creation of a new online journal designed to showcase the faculty, staff and students of the California State University system? The answer is nothing and everything. Like California’s location at the intersection of the east and the west, a point at the beginning of the world, a separate island or a microcosm of the whole, the CSU is also a treasure that began amidst a fragmented multitude of often conflicting stories.

From the beginning of California’s journey to statehood and its first constitutional convention in 1849, education was a priority. The legislature and the governor were given the right and even the obligation to create the infrastructure necessary for public schools while the constitution itself made provision for a superintendent of public instruction. The CSU’s specific origin story can be traced to the founding of a normal school for the training of teachers in 1857 – a full decade before the University of California system in 1868 – and with community colleges following in 1910 (Gerth, 3). Building on that relatively humble beginning, the CSU developed its first Master Plan in 1961 and formalized international programs in 1962 – all while continuing to build its outreach through Chancellor Glenn Dumke’s concept in the 1970s of a ‘1,000-mile campus’ that would offer extended education the length of the state.

Today the CSU is the largest public university system in the nation with nearly 56,000 faculty and staff serving over 477,000 students a year on its 23 campuses. The CSU grants over 132,000 degrees to the most ethnically, economically and academically diverse student body in the country consisting of about one third first generation college students, one third underrepresented minorities and half in receipt of Pell grants.  As relatively recently deceased CSU historian (and Sacramento State’s longest-serving president 1984-2003) Donald Gerth explains:

The history of the California State University is a story that can be understood in several ways. It is the evolution of a single institution and a concept – education of teachers for the frontier. It is institutional responsiveness to social need, sometimes within the context of making public policy…It is the history of a kind of higher education institution, with a richness over all of its years, that has become a national and global model. It is a reflection and a part of the building of a nation-state, California. It is a stunning story of organizational change in the context of the needs of the greater society, change propelled externally and internationally, change propelled by the circumstances of California from a frontier that was already a diverse culture, and by the leadership of persistent and often visionary educators as well as external political, economic, technological and cultural leadership.”

(Gerth, xviii).

Gerth goes on to point out that the mission is clear: “access, affordability, and quality” and further that this was “not an idle promise. It was real, and it was the most substantial promise that any society had ever made to its people” (Gerth, 596).

What will csuglobal do?

This is a journal in three parts – each designed to serve a distinct goal of the CSU. The core of the endeavor will showcase CSU scholarship in all its depth and breadth around four interdisciplinary themes in a traditional peer reviewed academic journal format. The other two sections are designed to address two separate, but connected areas of the CSU mission, namely, teaching quality and excellence and public engagement.

The main journal’s goal of interdisciplinarity is reflected in the choice of themes that intentionally overlap and intersect so as to invite discussion across disciplinary boundaries. These themes include but are not limited to:  

Theme 1: Society, Culture and Identity

  • Language as Culture and Survival
  • Human Expression in Literature and the Arts
  • Movement: Migrations and Diasporas
  • Race, Gender and Inequality
  • Religion, Spirituality, Secularism and Ethics
  • Memory of the Past/History of the Future

Theme 2: Institutions, Structures and Power

Theme 3: Networks of Economy and Trade

Theme 4: Scientific Essentials and Sustainable Environments

The third section is also a peer reviewed journal, but rather than discipline-based scholarship it is a space designed to focus on practical discussions of pedagogy, case studies, and classroom effectiveness in a global context i.e. how can we bring the world to our students and how do our students interact with the world? And how we can do it better by learning from each other?

Finally, and like the CSU itself – the front door is wide open and intended to be a ‘zine/platform that welcomes public interaction and discussion. Here we expect to hear from the many California voices engaged at the local/global intersections found in current affairs. Some will be currently in the CSU while others will be from the worlds of politics, business, civil society and the arts. However, given there are 4 million CSU alums (and counting), 1 in 10 employees in California is a CSU graduate and 1 in every 20 Americans with a college degree earned it at the CSU – we hope that many CSU alums will bring the experience they have gained after graduation back home to the CSU. The goal is a hub of information and interaction by creating space for mutual education flavored by CSU experiential know-how.

Speaking of interaction, that is perhaps the biggest innovation of this project. By creating an entirely online publication we will not only be able to feature the arts in a truly multi-modal way through voice, film, photography etc. we will (for the first time) be able to use technology in a scholarly journal to actively involve our readers: scholar to scholar – student to author – California citizen to the CSU. While perhaps not available in every area from the outset, it is our vision that each section will have an open channel of communication (relevant to the type of content) to those behind the screen. Letters to ‘zine, discussions with the scholars in the second section and a place for the sharing of information and resources for educators. Finally – and true to our CSU values – all these spaces will welcome students both as authors, respondents and discussants.

Who is behind csuglobal?
This project has been years in the making. The brainchild of Professor Richard Marcus, Director of the Global Studies Institute at CSU Long Beach, the journal would have stayed a coffee klatch topic of idle speculation without his belief in the idea and determination to find the seed funding. An explorer of sorts in his own right, he was determined to discover a way to bring the riches of the system to a wider audience. To that end, he gathered support from the Elaine Haglund Global Endowment and after he appointed me as the inaugural Managing Editor, we set about building the team.

The board of Associate Editors is designed to have two editors for each theme/section (including an editor specifically to support student engagement) and currently consists of 12 people with faculty at every rank and staff and administrators from 10 campuses though we are still adding to our number.

Managing Editor

Dr. Alison Holmes, Cal Poly Humboldt

Associate Editors


Dr. Brian K. Aguilar, Sacramento State University
Dr. Anthony Pahnke, San Francisco State University


Theme 1: Society, Culture & Identity
Dr. Dana S. Belu, California State University, Dominguez Hills
Dr. Kerri J. Malloy, San Jose State University

Theme 2: Institutions, Structure, & Power
Dr. Robina Bhatti, California State University, Monterey Bay
Dr. Luba Levin-Banchik, California State University, San Bernardino

Theme 3: Networks of Economy & Trade
Dr. Xiaoye She, California State University, San Marcos
Dr. Aaron Hegde, California State University, Bakersfield

Theme 4: Scientific Essentials & Sustainable Environments
Dr. Wenli Jen, California State University, Dominguez Hills
Dr. Victoria Bhavsar, Cal Poly Pomona


Dr. Amy Below, California State University, East Bay
Dr. Cari Vanderkar, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

csuglobal, Student Engagement

Dr. Maria Ortuoste, California State University, East Bay

csuglobal Advisory Editors

Dr. Richard R. Marcus, Director, The Global Studies Institute and the Elaine Haglund Global Learning Endowment, California State University, Long Beach
Dr. Jaishankar Raman, California State University, Office of the Chancellor

Editorial Assistant

Lauren Lakritz, California State University, Long Beach

In keeping not only with California’s history, but the organic development of the CSU as an institution, these intrepid pioneers have each written an initial piece for their section that forms the content of this launch issue. They have brought their own work to the table while sharing their ideas on the questions that could and should be asked under that theme. Some consider the past, others the present or the future of California. They examine the ways in which we study our world and the how our state can influence that world – and perhaps the ways the world should influence us more. The collective goal is to open an honest conversation with our colleagues at every level of the system and in every corner of the state. Thus, each section includes some brief introductory comments along with editors’ invitations to their specific area in the hope of generating interest and excitement to talk beyond our own areas of expertise. This kind of ‘stone soup’ approach is not typical of an academic journal, but as suggested, California is known for being atypical. We are confident that as more people hear the invitation they will come to the gathering and bring their own insights and perspectives on California’s role as both leader and servant in the world. Before long, we believe we will have a feast.

James Gregory argues that “some would say the greatest reason for hope lies in the state’s transcendent cultural traditions in particular its capacity for innovation and change”. He further suggests that “this notion, itself a feature of the newer, global California, operates more on the plain of myth than fact” and that while it “would be hard to demonstrate that Californians, in the aggregate are any more creative or attuned to change than anyone else. It is relatively easy, however, to show that they think they are”. His point being that perhaps to understand California’s story it may be necessary to first see how wholeheartedly we believe our own mythology. Crucially it also requires the belief that, as Polk says, “myths are ultimately indestructible. Their spore lies dormant in the subsoil of the culture, awaiting only the proper combination of factors…[but]…As long as there are people to project on California all their dreams and expectations for material well-being and personal liberty, there can be no ending of this story of California as an enchanted isle”.

(Polk, 332)

For csuglobal, the dream and expectation is the creation of a platform that allows all the expertise, experience and possibilities contained within the CSU system to collectively shine. California was global even before the first ‘beginning’ and so our mission is to recognize, identify, celebrate – and in some small way – help connect all of California’s identities to each other and to express that to the world. At its very core, the CSU has been, remains and will be the people’s university and Donald Gerth once offered a guide as to what that means:  

What is a people university? The people’s university is available to people. The people’s university reaches out and provokes the spark of human potential in all of the citizenry, directly or indirectly. The people university is accountable to people for quality and for the choice of resources committed to its support in contrast with other basic human needs. But the people’s university is no mean servant. It leads in society

(Gerth, xvii)

csuglobal seeks to be a practical way for us to reshape that mission for the 21st century – by providing more access to our collective content – by provoking the spark of human potential through engagement – and through service, we are better able to inspire the next generation of leaders of a global California.


Gerth, Donald. The People’s University: A History of the California State University. Berkeley: Berkeley Public Policy Press. UC, Berkeley. (2010).

Gregory, James. 1992. The Shaping of California History in the Encyclopedia of American Social History. New York: Scribners.

Nash, Gerald. 1981. “California and its Historians: An Appraisal of the Histories of the State”. Pacific Historical Review. Vol 50. No 4. pp 387-413. 

Polk, Dora Beale. The Island of California: A History of the Myth. Spokane, WA. Arthur H. Clarke Co. (1991).